Meet the Founders: Caroline Grannan

Third in a series of profiles of PAA’s founding members.

Caroline Grannan, PAA’s Parent Trigger expert, got her start in education reform research more than a decade ago, in the dark days when Google searches hadn’t yet been developed and building a website required a programming expert. Her first focus was Edison Schools, Inc., a for-profit, NASDAQ-traded charter management company that claimed to bring “the efficiencies of the private sector” to public education. “It was really getting hailed as the next big thing,” she explained.

Back in 2001, the San Francisco school board became dissatisfied with its Edison school, and began moving to end the contract. The company fought back, creating a national furor that maligned the San Francisco school board members, especially Jill Wynns, a friend of Caroline’s who is an outspoken critic of education “reform” fads and is now president of the California School Boards Assocation.

Caroline and fellow parent activist Dana Woldow began to scrutinize Edison’s record, hunting down numbers and then crunching them to determine whether Edison schools were working the miracles they claimed. They soon learned that the schools had unusually high costs, produced subpar results, and pushed out the most challenged students. But despite these failings, and despite efforts on the part of many school boards to end Edison contracts, editorial pages around the country regularly hailed Edison as a solution to “failing” public schools, reprinting the company’s inflated claims without checking them out. Eventually, after being kicked out of many dissatisfied school districts, Edison gradually fizzled out. It now exists as a consultant in a few locales.

Caroline brought multiple passions to her work. As a mother with two children in San Francisco public schools, she knew the real challenges that urban schools and students faced, and realized that “business efficiency” was not the answer. As a journalist with two decades of experience, she believed strongly in the value of hard-hitting, research-based reporting, and was dismayed by the willingness of the mainstream media to believe Edison’s unfounded claims.

Even as the Edison Schools project sank beneath the weight of the shortcomings that she and others exposed, Caroline kept researching and reporting. With the spread of the “corporate reform” movement, with its tendency to inflate the value of school closings, high-stakes testing, charter expansion and other proposed transformations, she had plenty to do.

California’s parent trigger law, passed in 2010, caught her eye early on. The organization Parent Revolution, founded by charter school mogul Steve Barr and funded by the heavy-hitting Broad, Gates and Walton foundations, was behind the legislation. Parent Revolution announced that it would be targeting schools in San Francisco, putting Caroline on her guard. (It has not actually materialized in San Francisco.)

Caroline followed the first parent trigger effort in Compton, near Los Angeles, charting the way that Parent Revolution hired paid signature-collectors in a furtive process which led to an eruption of discontent once parents learned that their signatures were being used not simply to improve their school, but to replace it with a charter. Her blow-by-blow reporting of this story, and that of a second Parent Revolution effort in Adelanto, California, has provided an invaluable correction to inflated claims about the “parent power” that parent trigger supporters claim the legislation will unleash.

Parents Across America has posted several of her pieces, which are also included in the PAA online toolkit designed to help communities address the parent trigger-centered movie Won’t Back Down.

With both of her children now in college, Carolina works as a freelance editor and does grantwriting for nonprofits. She would like to see a time when organizations like Parents Across America “don’t have to put our energy into combating destructive forces,” and can just focus on improving schools. But until that day comes, she plans to keep on researching and informing.

“Just getting the truth out when lies are flying through the air, just getting that out is a challenge and that’s what I try to do,” she says.

 

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